3MT: Deconstructing winning Three Minute Thesis entries

 

Next week I am entering the QUT Business School heats of the Three Minute Thesis competition. To help prepare my presentation, I thought I would look at a number of winning entries from within QUT, across Australia, and internationally to see if there were any patterns of success. Thanks to universities around the world publishing the work of their students on YouTube, there are a vast array of speakers from different subject areas to base my analysis on.

As it turns out, after watching 15 or so winning entries, there are four things that appear consistently across almost all high achieving 3MT presentations.

The Opening

Setting the scene is really important. Instead of diving straight into the student’s thesis and all the gory detail, most presenters started with a general problem that everyone in the audience could relate to in some way. Not only did they state the problem, but most very succinctly then demonstrated the consequences of that problem – this paints a very vivid picture to:

  1. Provides a clear “signpost” as to what the research is all about;
  2. Ensures everyone in the audience understands the importance of the research
  3. Now that they know it is a problem, keeps the audience intrigued as to how you solved it/answered the question

Sharon Savage from the University of New South Wales does this within just 10 seconds of starting her 3MT presentation. Clear, concise, to the point… and made the research relevant to EVERYONE in the room!

 

The Details

Very few students used technical research language to describe their study. For example, no one talked about “sampling strategy”. Instead the speakers used simple language to describe at a high level what they did. For example Matthew Thompson from the University of Queensland (Winner 2011) talked about “working with fingerprint examiners in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne.. etc” something that we can all understand.

(Matthew Thompson – University of Queensland on stage at the Australasian finals of the 2011 Three Minute Thesis Competition presenting “Suspects, Science and CSI” – my favourite 3MT presentation from my quick and dirty analysis)

Beyond using simple language, the speakers didn’t share their data – they shared the story of their data. The took complex results and boiled them down to simple statements which were consumable by the audience. Matthew Thompson summarised most of his PhD results in just one of sentence – “Generally fingerprint examiners were very accurate, however there were a few mistakes”. It laid the perfect signpost to segue to…

The Significance

Almost all speakers did a great job of tightly articulating why their research was of real practical significance. Not just “adding to the body of knowledge” – but passionately sharing the specific impact the research is already having, or will have in the world we live. The best students took this one step further, and ensured that the significance of the research was relevant to the audience. For example, Emily Milne from the University of Waterloo took her specific topic and then articulated how it was a social challenge that all Canadians need to care about.

(Emily Milne – University of Waterloo (2013) makes it crystal clear at the end of her 3MT as to the impact of her study on one of the most critical social challenges for Canadians)

 

The delivery

Ultimately everyone delivered very engaging presentations which took their audience on a journey. Passion, emphasis where it was required, subtle but effective hand movement, and confident delivery ensured that the audience understood the key points the speakers were making. The best example of this I found was Megan Pozzi from QUT discussing her research on teenage girls and social media identity. It is also very clear that all top speakers were well rehearsed – all had memorised their presentations – all didn’t need to refer to their slide for guidance – they knew their stuff!

(Megan Pozzi – the Three Minute Thesis 2013 winner from QUT – the most dynamic speaker from the bunch)

 

Now I know that watching 15 YouTube videos, with no theoretical framework to guide my analysis isn’t overly scientific – but hopefully my observations and tips will help you when preparing your Three Minute Thesis presentation. Good luck!

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